Marguerite Humeau interview with Anaïs Lellouche.
Special thanks to Katya Conrad.
"By breaking the symmetry we can think about a new form or paradigm that embraces imperfections, decay and fragility of forms, which I think is more aligned with what we’re going through today as a species."
We're here to talk about Leeuwin, one of the largest sculptures you have created to date, which we commissioned with Art Makers and will be unveiled at the Sydney Biennale 2022. From research to collaboration and production, how do you start creating a work such as this?
I really try to encode my projects into very specific contexts and landscape environments.
What are the oral traditions? What are the mythologies? What are the mental landscapes that humans have and how do these project onto existing realities?
This specific commission is for the Sydney Biennale and I chose to explore the role of currents in our ecosystems, how climate change is affecting ocean currents and the literal and conceptual impact of these transformations. I was thinking about this topic broadly as well as in the specific context of Australia. I decided to extrapolate on the idea of a wave, thinking about transformation, flow and about currents.
I wanted to create a “being” that exists in this state of transformation. I imagined a form that seems like a wave or a current, transforming into some form of whale and in turn, transforming into a seaweed. I thought it would be interesting to use these shapes and to make it feel like the wave is becoming the whale and the whale is becoming seaweed.
At the same time, it becomes human because it looks like it’s standing on two legs. Like a mythical creature, this “being” gathers all these different spheres into one, its existence oscillates in between these different states of being. I did a lot of sketches for this work, from study sketches to sketches of whalebones and seaweed and slowly starting to bring them together. Once I had all the sketches, I connected them and decided on forms that evoked my idea then I sent it to one of my collaborators, a 3D designer who translated the sketches into a 3D form. 3D modelling is an amazing craft, because it’s all digital and is really refined.
How can we get this mythical being to actually stand on its two feet? That’s another challenge.
Because it’s supposed to behave like a wave, a lot of engineering had to be done to preserve the illusion that it is moving forward, standing tall but at the same time, being light.
When you work with different references and shapes, for example here with waves, whale bones and seaweed, how do you connect them together? How do you balance research and intuition to create your singular vision?
I chose the shoulder bone of the whale because it’s formally connected to the seaweed I am interested in. The shoulder bones are connected to the fins as well, they make the whole whale move forward. I thought it made sense, because that’s the key bone that makes the whale able to flow within the ocean.
I looked at the seaweeds in Australia, which were all specific to these lands and more precisely to the Leeuwin currents. I found that specific one called Amphiroa anceps which I thought was interesting because it connects visually to the shape of the whale bones. So it's a mix of intuitive and more scientific, technical processes.
"As a sculptor, it’s very important and interesting for me to see how natural forms, leaves, shells and animals emerge and to draw from real life."
How do you marry these very organic sources of inspiration together with casting? Can these references transcend into aluminium material?
We were adamant to use 100% recycled aluminium.
With Anaïs and Art Makers, we wanted to find an interesting coating, one that doesn’t cover the aluminium but embraces it and almost acts as skin. When you are in the foundry, the material is actually really textured, it's grainy, dirty, textured and carries the history of its transformation. We found an interesting way to use the skin so to keep its texture, we smoothed it a little bit but we kept some of the imperfections. It almost connects to a dolphin or whale skin, it’s nice to make aluminium look more fragile and imperfect.
This is also one of my first works that is completely asymmetrical. I was really pushing to create a sculpture that looks like one thing but when you look closer it is something different. Breaking the symmetry is a way of breaking this idea of an all-powerful view of technology and progress. By breaking the symmetry we can think about a new form or paradigm that embraces imperfections, decay and fragility of forms, which I think is more aligned with what we’re going through today as a species.
How does Leeuwin mark a continuation or a departure from your previous works?
I started to read books that were quite mathematical, analysing how forms grow in the natural world. I was trying to understand how things evolve and how they compose a form, from new cells to growing at different scales. As a sculptor, it’s very important and interesting for me to see how natural forms, leaves, shells and animals emerge and to draw from real life. This was really a shift, and I translated it into the work by also changing the way we crafted the 3D model: my collaborators created different forms that I would then reorganise, and that he would merge together again. It’s a much more dynamic process and I think it allows for much more detail and for the work to literally grow in the process of creation as well.
It’s also a new departure for you in terms of scale, being one of your largest works to date.
Are there premises for your future body of work that you're drawing from this experience?
What is exciting to me is to think about how we are relevant in the world. One way to do this is to really go out into real life scenarios. This means making work that can be displayed outdoors and connected to the landscape. Here, I have the opportunity to connect the artwork to the ocean. Especially working with recycled aluminium, the work comes from an environmentally conscious origin and is also a permanent and stable material.
It’s really not thinking about the work and then displaying it somewhere, but really studying the place itself and developing a work for it. That’s a direction I want to expand more and it was great to be able to start doing that with Leeuwin.
"Breaking the symmetry is a way of breaking this idea of an all-powerful view of technology and progress."